Fit For Duty

Our next blog post comes from Melissa and features something she is pretty passionate about – strength and conditioning for first responders. We’ve got a ton of first responders at the gym who are trained by or who train alongside Melissa. Melissa has worked in the field for over 15 years, always with a focus on prevention. She’s worn lots of hats in EMS and Fire including Field Supervisor, Consultant to DOH EMS, and Chief of EMS. Since beginning with us she’s gotten fairly strong. She actually PR’d her overhead press at 135 while writing this up for us.

Being at your best for those who are at their worst. Are you fit for duty?

If you ever worked with me then you know that prevention has always had my heart. If we know how to prevent a problem that can cause catastrophe, then why wouldn’t we?

So, I’d love to introduce my friends in public safety to strength training. While training for any public safety career it is made clear to students that there will be calls and days that push your body to the edge of its ability. With one of the leading causes of LODD for Firefighters, according to the NFPA, being sudden cardiac death due to stress and overexertion, are you preparing your body to handle the hard calls now or are you just hoping to make it through them? You owe it to the people you respond with, to and yourself to not become part of the emergency. There will always be unexpected medical emergencies but safety and prevention is your best tool to avoid becoming the patient on a call. There are many risks involved in Firefighting, so why not train in a way that reduces one of the biggest risks and makes your job easier.

Oh how I wish I knew HOW to strength train before I started working the road. My job would have been easier and my days off less filled with the need to recover. I joined a generic gym and like any novice I was able to get a little stronger because I was doing something more than I had before. It was better than nothing but it wasn’t efficient and it didn’t let my body meet its potential. I’d love to go back, knowing what I know now, and run out Linear Progression programming with job specific conditioning mixed in as I got stronger. I’d love to feel things becoming easier –  pulling and loading hoses, climbing stairs in gear with a high rise pack on and carrying patients – because of smart training.

I would eat more protein than whatever was found in cheez-its and I would train intelligently for an increase in general strength. In doing so I would be helping myself, the community I served and my brothers and sisters in the Fire service. My days on the road may be over (I never say never!) but now I ask my friends in Public Safety to consider all that is on the line when you aren’t prepared physically. You can start today… Get stronger starting, stay consistent and be better equipped to respond later. Are you confused about where to start? Ask and I’ll try to send you in the right direction.

Spotlight – Mallory Sutphin

I thought it might be cool to switch things up a little bit for this version of our Spotlight. Everybody at the gym knows Mallory now, but most haven’t seen how she’s grown from the person that walked in the door 8 years ago to the coach she is today. She’s one of the few people who remember the gym from its previous location, back when Beau wore compression socks and there were only 2 Bryant kids. I’ve even managed to unearth some photos taken July 4, 2010 showing Beau teaching Mallory how to perform bodyweight squats and ring rows.

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Youth Athletes and Strength Training

Somewhere along the way youth athletics have turned into a year around activity.  I’m an implant to Maryland so the popularity of Lacrosse was lost on me until I moved here in 2006.  Actually it wasn’t until 2010 when I opened up WS&C that I fully understood just how big lacrosse was in this state.  It didn’t take long before parents of all different sports began calling or stopping in looking for a strength program for their son or daughter.  Not all of them were lacrosse players but the overwhelming majority played lacrosse in the spring even if they were looking for training for another sport.

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Success with Heavy Light Medium

Lets start this off by saying that HLM is not a novice program. No matter how strong you think you are, if you have never ran through a simple linear progression on the basic barbell lifts, you will get stronger much quicker by doing that than anything you will read in this article.

 

The goal here is to explain what we do with certain people when they finish up a novice LP. A Heavy-Light-Medium (HLM) program provides a pretty good early-intermediate way to design weekly increases. Not all of our members use this template, but it can be very useful if used appropriately. It’s a basic framework that can be applied to athletes, older folks, and everyone in-between.

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Are You Strong Enough To Run?

This article is especially relevant due to some extremely nice weather we’ve been having here in Maryland lately. It is from our coach Steve Barker and originally appeared on his blog last year at www.barkertraining.com.

 

It’s getting nice out, which means everyone will be (and should be) getting outside more to move around after a long winter of staying indoors, binge eating oreos and checking to see what’s new on Netflix. The first thing everyone thinks to do once it gets nice out is to go for a run, and when the weather here in Maryland got over 60 degrees the first day, the sidewalks and streets were flooded with ipod-wearing runners hitting the pavement for the first time in a long time.  But what happened to those first timers? The streets haven’t been that busy since. Where have they all gone?

I have a few ideas.

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The Ritual of Barbell Training

From the Beau Bryant archives:

 

I stood in a weight room the other day watching about 40 kids squat, press and deadlift. It was one of those rare occasions I wasn’t yelling something at a kid, “shove your knees out”, “chest up!”, “elbows in front of the bar!” All you could hear were the weights clanging, bumpers dropping, and yells from fellow lifters encouraging their training partner. I’m not sure why I wasn’t yelling at a kid but it was pretty nice for about 10 minutes – just thinking and watching. As a strength coach in a crowded gym we don’t get much of that. So, in this rare opportunity I began thinking. Why do some kids excel in the weight room and some do not? Why do some kids gain 20 pounds of muscle, take their squat from 135 pounds to 400 pounds in 7 months, and become technicians of the lifts. Why do some of the others with access to the same program, the same advice, the same bar, the same steel, only gain a few pounds, take their squat from 115 pounds to 185 pounds, and just never make any more progress? This is what I was thinking about in the rare quiet of my own head in that noisy basement weight room.
I understand all the reasons we know so well. We all know them. Consistency, dedication, proper eating, proper recovery, genetics, mental attitude, and all the other things required to gain strength, size and power on a strength program. We know all these things are critical and we hammer them at every power athlete. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t talk to a kid about food, rest, recovery, focus, and consistency. There still seemed to be something else as I stood and watched these kids. What were the best performers doing in this crowd that made them different? Why did they look different as I stood and watched that day? Then it hit me. It hit me so hard that I could see it in every weight room I had coached in, including my own gym. The successful, the strong, approach the weight room and training in a very deliberate and focused manner. In the words of one of the best coaches in barbell sport, Marty Gallagher “one obvious difference between the athletically ordained and the athletically ordinary is the elite have an (innate?) ability to center and focus the mind on the athletic task at hand, whereas the civilian, the normal person, attacks weight training with the same approximate level of mental commitment they would muster for watering the lawn or brushing their teeth.” This was the difference.
Read that quote again. Let it sink in. It’s important to understand that although you are not trying to set a world squat record you are trying to get as strong as possible to improve your quality of life. Stronger now means stronger later. We only have so much time here, today, to get strong. We are all busy. We all have a million other obligations. Most of us make it to the gym 3 days a week or so for about an hour each. If I can do something simple that requires no extra time on my part and actually make my workouts more efficient why would I not do so? If I can reduce the likelihood of stalling on a lift simply because I have done everything right and make 100% use of that time I made it to the gym, why would I not do so? Whether you are a weightlifter or a powerlifter your task (the actual lift) takes as little as a second to tops about 3-4 seconds. If you have done everything right leading up to that 1-4 seconds you will not miss that lift.
As I stood there I noticed the kids making the most progress walked in every day and approached the same squat rack. Set their gear down in the same place. Adjusted the bar on the rack the same way they did 2 days earlier. As they stepped into the squat rack every movement was the same as the set before it. They placed their left hand on the rack, then their right, they stepped under the bar the same, carefully placed the bar in the exact same spot on their back. They took the same steps out of the rack. Their first warm-up set looked like their 3rd work set. They had ritualized everything they did from the time they walked in to train. If something threw off their ritual (their normal squat rack was occupied) you could physically see their discomfort. It upset them visibly.

 
The kids that made the most progress had what seemed to be an instinctual ability to ritualize what they did in the weight room. I as the coach didn’t teach it. They just seemed to do it; like all the best lifters I have coached. As I thought about it I realized I knew which kids were going to make the most progress by the end of the first week with a new group. It had nothing to do with how well they squatted on day one, it had nothing to do with what they looked like physically, it didn’t have much to do with genetics, it had everything to do with those that had the innate ability to ritualize the lift. You could see it developing by day two and by day three the ones that were going to do it had already started doing it.
So the next question I logically asked myself was can you teach someone how to do this? Can you teach someone to ritualize what you teach them during that first squat session? Can they begin to ritualize those first 10 cues you teach them about the squat and repeat the sequence two days later? Over time as they become more and more proficient at the movement will they continue to do it and add new steps to that process that have a positive impact on the lift? I think the answer to these questions is yes, many can (clearly many will never learn or apply this process) if you begin the process during the first coaching session.
Most of you reading this are not coaches so I will spare you the process I have used to get those without the innate ability to ritualize a barbell movement to begin doing so from day one. This article is for you the lifter who may approach the bar with the same focus you would any mundane task that needs little attention. This article is to get you thinking. All of you are familiar with the process of ritualizing something in your life. You all do it whether you think about it or not. Think hard about something you do regularly that if you get out of sequence it gets you get off track and gets the task harder. I know for me grocery shopping is a task I have ritualized. I will walk into the store with my list and attack it the same way every time. Veggie section, meats, milk for the kids, back in the other direction to hit the few things I need in the middle isles. When the process happens it’s smooth, I’m in and out in no time. The only thing I fear is the dreaded text from my wife while in the meat section asking to add ketchup to the list. If I do not turn and get the ketchup as soon as I get the text I will likely forget it. If I turn and get it I will mess my sequence up (my grocery store ritual) and I will forget something else. I will spend 10 minutes stumbling around an aisle I do not even need to be down all because I got out of sequence. I know you have something, just think about it. You already know how to do this.
The next step is to apply it to your training. Begin to ritualize how you squat, press, and pull. Place the same hand on the bar first in the same spot every time you squat. Place the bar in the exact same position on your back every time. Walk out of the rack and place your left foot in position then your right. If you do this you will never have your hands placed in the wrong position on the bar. You will never place the bar in the wrong position on your back. You will never miss a squat because you took too wide a stance. This is the start of the process. As you continue to ritualize you will add your own cues or steps to the process. You will begin to see all your lifts looking exactly the same. The first set to the last will look the same. Remember, when you do everything correctly you cannot do it wrong. Once you have set the lift up correctly you can’t miss it.
Check out one of the greats, Kirk Karwoski training his deadlift. Look at the first warm-up to the last. I think it is safe to say Kirk ritualized his lifts. The only difference between set one and the last is plates added to the bar. Kirk had the ability to treat his 60% warm-up the exact same way he treated a max attempt. In his mind the 60% lift might as well have been 900 pounds. He had the same mental focus and the same ritual.
Remember, when you do everything right you cannot screw up.

Anthropometry and Deadlifts

From the Beau Bryant archives:

 

Anthropometry (Greek anthropos – “man”) and (metron – “measure”) “Measurement of Man”
In a previous life I may have spent some time working as an interrogator in Iraq. It was fun, I enjoyed it and I was pretty good at it. I often was asked to handle the more “difficult” subjects, apparently because I had a knack at getting someone to speak with me. I’m not sure that any amount of training could prepare you for it. I think success depended more on your observational skills and attention to detail than anything taught in a classroom. I spent probably 8-10 hours a day in an interrogation booth practicing and refining my skills. Amazingly enough, outside of that booth I did not practice my trade. It’s pretty tiring to stay focused on people’s verbal language, body language, behavior and tone while simultaneously listening to and formulating new questions and leading them down the road you need them on. I’m a pretty quiet person in social settings, always have been. I would much rather do more listening than talking. You learn more that way.

The world of being a strength coach and the interrogation world have more in common than one would think. I do much of the same thing minus the yelling. No, wait, I do yell. OK, minus the intimidation. My coaching style is yelling without intimidation. I observe, listen, formulate a plan and then help lead the athlete down the road toward their goal. The listening, plan formulating (programming) and helping lead the athlete down a path are pretty straight forward. You can read about programming for the next 20 years and still have more to read. Most of it works and success has been had a million different ways. I leave the programming stuff for others to write about. The one thing many coaches and even athletes miss is observation. Observation happens immediately when I begin training a new athlete. It’s the first thing I do when you walk in the door. I observe. Specifically, I observe your anthropometry. It tells me most of what I need to know about teaching you to squat, pull or press. I have even joked that I’m looking at your deformities. I’m looking at your Barney Rubble torso and legs or your Olive Oil likeness and everything in between.

An article floated around social media not long ago that got me thinking about all this anthropometry stuff. I’ll save you the details but it was an article that explained why people look differently when they squat. The “measurement of man” is such a part of what we do every day at WS&C that it didn’t occur to me why this article was being shared around the interwebz so fast. To most, it seemed like it was a totally new concept and many of these were coaches that work with athletes every day. At first I didn’t understand how people were so amazed that we all have different anthropometry and that these differences affect how the barbell lifts look. I mean, we all understand that some of us have size 13 feet and some have size 8 right? We do understand that some have long legs and some have short legs? Correct? Levis understood these concepts 150 years or so ago, so I assume that this is not ground breaking stuff to most of us in the strength field. Then it hit me. We all understand the differences in anthropometry between us, but many, including those that coach basic barbell lifts do not understand how those differences affect the barbell lifts or how to apply it to different people

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In the next few weeks after the article, I read a few more things posted on social media and even saw coaching that further confirmed my thoughts. There are a bunch of coaches and athletes who do not understand how to apply anthropometric analysis to lifts. If they did, I wouldn’t see things like “never let your knees pass your toes” in reference to squatting or “do not let your upper body lean or fall forward” also in reference to the squat. I would not hear them trying to get a lifter into a position they are simply not capable of getting into and still keeping the barbell over the middle of the foot. Not to pick on anyone here because I’m pretty sure some of these writings were not meant to be an in-depth analysis of the squat but they were informational postings, seemingly, to educate. If you read these things and tried to apply them you may be set up for failure. Your anthropometry may require you to “let your upper body lean forward” in order to follow the “do not let your knees pass your toes”.

I’m not going to get into a crazy, in-depth analysis of the squat here. Many people like Mark Rippetoe have already done that and if it interests you then you can order the book, Starting Strength Basic Barbell Training 3rd Ed and read it. As a Starting Strength Coach, I am required to understand this stuff beyond what is healthy for normal people and even most coaches. I guess this is partly the reason I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff. Not to mention, our understanding of these things is why people travel a long way to have us work the kinks out of their squats, deadlifts and presses at WS&C.

What we will do is give you some practical working knowledge of how to apply your anthropometry differences and maybe that of others you are trying to help out to improve your lifts. This will also help you call bullshit when a personal trainer tells you your back is too horizontal when you deadlift. It will prevent you from coaching people into positions based on where you think their knees should be in relation to their toes and help you begin looking at diagnostic angles, body segments and bar position to understand proper positioning.

First we must understand that proper barbell technique will place the barbell directly over the middle of the foot. To keep it simple, the middle of the foot is just in front of where you would tie a bow knot on your low top shoe, or about an inch from your shin as looking down from above. Secondly, we must have a working understanding of the 3 diagnostic angles for the squat and the deadlift. They are knee angle, hip angle, and back angle. Next we have to look at the body as a series of segments. The important segments here are the trunk, thigh, and shank. The trunk is from about the base of the neck to the hip, the thigh comprises the femur, and the shank makes up the lower leg from the knee to the ankle. Lastly, we must understand that when the bar is over the middle of the foot, whether at the bottom of a squat or the start of the deadlift, ANTHROPOMETRY differences (differences in segment length) will change the diagnostic angles. For example, if I have long femurs and a long tibia (shank) but a short upper body (trunk), I will have more forward lean in the squat than someone of opposite anthropometry. Furthermore, the more you tell me to stop my torso from leaning forward, the more my knees must travel in front of my toes. Of course we can make modifications to lessen the impact such as widening the stance, but we see where this is going right? We see how coaching positions may lead us to chase our tail, right?
While comparing photos of actual femur bones turned the light bulb on for many people it really did nothing to show how these things change the actual look of the squat or the deadlift. This is what amazed me about the article. They showed that two people’s femurs looked drastically different and lots of people seemed amazed. It was as if this thought had not occurred to them before. So I’ll take it a step further.

Let’s take a look at the affect of those anthropometry differences have on an actual barbell lift so we can put this knowledge to good use. This hopefully will give you a little better understanding of how to apply this to your own training and those around you. If nothing else you can tell someone to get bent when they try to get your hips lower or higher in the deadlift.

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The above photo shows a proper deadlift set up. Not to get into the model we teach to set up a proper deadlift but there are a couple things to note. Certain aspects will be universal REGARDLESS OF ANTHROPOMETRY differences between individuals. If you notice the bar is about an inch from her shin. You will need to trust me here, I set her up for the photo and even if I didn’t Lindsay is a damn fine deadlifter and set her shins an inch from the bar anyway. The second thing you will notice is her shoulders are slightly in front of the bar. This will always be the case for a couple reasons of which I will not get into here.

I have also labeled the diagnostic angles (knee, hip and back angle). Of note is that the bar in proper position over the middle of her foot has ESTABLISHED the diagnostic angles. This is important to understand. If we tried to establish proper positioning by setting what we think are proper diagnostic angles, we very well may end up changing bar position. You can see why someone telling Lindsay that her back angle is too horizontal will end up changing her bar position if they lower the hips, correct? Remember, if we change one diagnostic angle the others will also change. Lowering her hips will cause the bar to move forward of the middle of her foot in order to close the knee angle. Action, reaction.

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So let’s try to artificially change the length of Lindsey’s femurs and see what affect this has on our diagnostic angles. The above photo shows the results of a slightly shorter femur on Lindsay. Notice if we keep the bar over middle foot and shoulders slightly in front of the bar her back angle will open (less horizontal).

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If we lengthen the femur we see the back angle close (become more horizontal).

Hopefully these three photos of the same lifter, positioned differently, gives you an idea in your mind of what differing anthropometry may have on diagnostic angles. And just to be sure I have snapped a couple photos of lifters with drastically different anthropometry and thus, their appearance in the deadlift setup changes.

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The above photo shoes someone with normal tibia length and a shorter femur with a longer back segment.

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The above photo shows longer tibia length, normal femurs and an average back segment. Of note, Ashley has some pretty good levers that make her a solid squatter and a pretty good puller.

Here is a pretty good example of a longer than normal back segment and what this does to the back angle.

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All of the above photos followed our model. The bar is an inch from each lifters shins on set up and the shoulders are slightly in front of the bar yet we see a couple distinctly different looking deadlift set ups.

So the next time you are at the gym, take a minute and observe. Observe the weirdness of people around you and see how that affects the diagnostic angles of their squat and deadlift or pulls from the floor. Look at their body segments and begin to work through what they would look like at the bottom of a squat or a deadlift. Take note of your own anthropometry and use that to gain better positioning on your own lifts.

How To Keep Your Bar Looking Fresh

Chalk is something a lot of people take advantage of, but nobody ever really stops to think about why it works, or if they’re using too much.

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Nearly everyone has seen this sight at some point. You walk into the gym and claim your rack, only to find that the bar sitting there has been attacked by a chalk monster. Now, I’m all for chalk. It is 100% necessary if you’re going to take your training seriously. But similar to training volume more is not always more, and you need to clean up after yourself if you are going to use it.

 

Let’s think for a minute what the role of chalk in a gym is. When your hands are sweaty chalk is used as a drying agent to keep your hands from slipping on the bar. This is imperative while lifting heavy, especially here in the humid Maryland summer. However, there is a point at which more chalk will impede your progress.

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The above photo is a picture of a B&R bar’s knurling, or the grippy part that’s etched into the steel. Every bar’s knurling is a little different, but the idea remains the same. The rough surface helps you grip the bar much better than if it were simply a piece of smooth steel. This is not always enough, however. Sweaty hands create a grip problem, especially during heavy deadlifts, cleans, snatches, or chinups. This is where chalk helps by absorbing some of the moisture present on your hands. In general, less moisture = a better grip.

 

So how much chalk is too much chalk? Once your hands are dry, any extra chalk beyond that is simply filler. And by that I mean it’s literally filling in the knurling in the bar. Zoom in on the picture at the top of this post of the bar filled with chalk, and you’ll see that it’s actually more smooth than a bar without chalk. This is because all that extra chalk fills in the pattern on the knurling that would otherwise be used to give you a better grip. So extra chalk actually makes it harder to grip the bar.

 

Now that that’s settled, how do we clean up after ourselves after we use a responsible amount of chalk? A wire brush is what we use for removing the chalk that remains stuck in a bar’s knurling. Here is an example of one of the ones we have sitting around the gym.

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Why clean the chalk out of a bar anyway? Remember the role of chalk – it absorbs moisture. Anyone who knows cars will draw an analogy to leaving mud on the bottom of your car. The mud holds moisture close to the body of the car, which over time can make the metal rust more quickly (especially if you have lots of scratches and peeling paint). In the same light, if chalk is left on a bar the moisture that it holds ends up making that bar rust.

The two bars below are perfect examples of this. Both are weightlifting bars purchased at roughly the same time. The York bar at the top could have used a little more after-workout care. The bar below it, another York weightlifting bar with a fairly similar knurling, shows how a bar should look even after years of regular use.

 

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If you’re spending good money on a bar (you should – a barbell is not the place to skimp on money), you want to take care of your investment. So next time you lift, don’t go crazy with the chalk. And what you do use, clean up. It’ll turn your bar from a 2-year disappointment into a lifetime investment.